Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sound ‘Round: St. Vincent

A worthy culmination

St. Vincent – St. Vincent (Loma Vista)

st. vincent - st. vinentHer discography unto this point is a collection of notable records with moments of pop bliss made fleeting by a swath of disparate genre experiments. So count Annie Clark’s fourth release as a minor feat and credit her just-funky-enough 2012 collaboration with David Byrne as a catalyst. Where the percussion was once stiff and impersonal, here it’s burly, determined and human. She’s also forsaken the ornate decorations of the indiesphere in favor of saucy and punctuated brass, guitars blocky and metallic and diminishes the torturous melodicism too many mistake for profundity. In short: Clark has discovered music is for casual listeners as well. Content wise, she remains rather fragmented. Songs concerning uneven relationships and strong feminist views bounce off warnings of the security state and a track where the auteur eludes a rattle snake in the nude – insert tasteless joke here. Me, I prefer it when she keeps things broad, less personal and light on metaphor. It’s no coincidence those bits are the most palpable. At long last, she’s acting like a real person, sort of. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Digital Witness” / “Prince Johnny” / “Huey Newtown

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Sound ‘Round: Toni Braxton & Babyface / Katy B

Love in a hopeless state and place, respectively

Toni Braxton & Babyface – Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown)

Toni Braxton & BabyfaceBoth had brief career highpoints in the late ‘90s at the twilight of the R&B renaissance. Since then, he’s spent the last several years penning other people’s hits, and she’s turned to reality TV to stave off bankruptcy. To call this unexpected collab a surprising success is an understatement. A concept album centered on a crumbling marriage that refuses to die can be awfully icky – especially coming from two careerists who are viewed as has beens. Lacking the pop relevancy they neither desire nor have any use for, the pair trade barbs they most assuredly lunged at their respective exes during legal proceedings. Her to him: “I wish she’d give you a disease / So that you will see / Not enough to make you die / But only make you cry like you did to me.” Aside from the bile are welcomed moments of candor. Each is concerned for the other’s wellbeing and regret past transgressions. The songs about make-up sex double as illusions of rekindled romance, and the finale is so devastating they refer to the annulment as “The D Word” – unwilling to accept the permanence of their arrangement. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: The D Word” / “I’d Rather Be Broke” / “I Hope That You’re OK

Katy B – Little Red (Sony/Columbia)

katy b - little redBlame it on my American-instilled definition of dance music, but this sultry-voiced Brit doesn’t fit the bill. There are beats and grooves and pulses aplenty on her sophomore album, but they’re minimal in scale and monochrome in texture – the byproduct of lazy Euro-house production techniques. There’s not much to be said for the rest of the music, either – a colorless slush of hazy synths and empty dubstep burps. All the credit for saving an otherwise tepid outing goes to Kathleen Brien’s booming contralto. So melodic, so radiant, so magnetizing is her timbre it converts routine four-on-the-floor exercises into captivating blasts of pop regardless of the subject matters: love, drugs, drugs as love and vice versa. Don’t confuse such seedy topics with youthful reckless abandon. She can be coy but just as playful – look no further than the more-than-meets the eye title of “I Like You.” The second half of that sentence: … “a little bit.” Someone get her a passport and bring her stateside. Introduce her to Greg Kurstin while you’re at it. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: 5 AM” / “Crying For No Reason” / “I Like You